How to grow health­ier

Cul­ti­vat­ing herbs in your gar­den — or win­dowsill — can be a balm for your body, mind and spirit.

Los Angeles Times - - MIND & BODY - By Peg Mo­line health@latimes.com

Herbs are fun and easy to grow, and not only can gar­den­ing keep you happy, but the herbs can help keep you healthy too.

When you think about grow­ing herbs, you might imag­ine a basil Caprese salad or rose­mary sprin­kled on roasted pota­toes. But did you know that the scent of crushed rose­mary may im­prove mem­ory? That basil can re­duce swelling from a sprain?

“There’s no ques­tion herbs can help peo­ple ease mild ail­ments and avoid [ over- the- counter] drugs and even some pre­scrip­tion medicines,” says Bos­ton- based natur­opath Cathy Wong. Nip­ping a mild ail­ment in the bud might even help keep it from be­com­ing more se­ri­ous. Wong also likes the fact that gar­den herbs can be made into teas. “Peo­ple strug­gle to drink enough wa­ter ev­ery day. Herbal teas make it easy.”

Stud­ies show that gar­den­ing im­proves your body. All that dig­ging, rak­ing and bending up and down strength­ens your arms, back and ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles. Gar­den­ing also has been shown to re­duce stress more than other leisure in­ter­ests, in­clud­ing read­ing, and it’s ranked one of the top out­door ac­tiv­i­ties for adults. Ex­er­cis­ing in na­ture is up­lift­ing; ecother­a­pists be­lieve that even if it’s just in your backyard, it’s vi­tal to touch the earth regularly.

There’s great sat­is­fac­tion in cul­ti­vat­ing a plant that you can use. Grow­ing your own pro­duce also gets kids more in­volved in the food they eat. Amer­i­cans are catch­ing on; ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Gar­den­ing Assn., nearly 35% of U. S. house­holds grow food at home or in a com­mu­nity gar­den. We’re bet­ting that you’ll fall in love with the power and the f la­vor of these amaz­ing herbs and will start throw­ing them into what­ever dishes you can.

Gar­den herbs can be grown from seeds; a few ( like rose­mary) grow slowly, so start­ing with a cut­ting or root di­vi­sion is bet­ter. Most nurs­eries stock or can or­der them for you; search online for seed cat­a­logs. And the herbs can be started ( or even stay) in a sunny win­dowsill, then planted in well- drained soil and full sun­light. Some gar­den herbs are bian­nual; some are peren­nial, which means they will come back for at least three years be­fore need­ing re­place­ment. Leaves should be picked be­fore the plants f lower. If you live in a cold cli­mate, mulch in the fall.

You can start as small as you like and get big­ger. Herbal­ist Nancy Smithers started her com­pany, Nova Sco­tia Or­gan­ics, in her home gar­den when her sis­ter, who was train­ing in In­dia to be a healer, was not sat­is­fied with the qual­ity of the herbs she found at gro­cers. “I loved gar­den­ing, and my sis­ter got a master herbal­ist to teach me to iden­tify and grow these heal­ing herbs. That was 23 years ago.”

Smithers sug­gests grow­ing the herbs shown here, and laven­der, gar­lic, onion and pars­ley.

“Pick laven­der f low­ers in full bloom and put them in a mesh bag for a non- toxic moth re­pel­lent,” Smithers said. “Don’t plant in rows; in­stead, de­sign clumps of f low­ers and col­ors. And throw in col­or­ful nas­tur­tiums — the vines will in­ter­twine with the other f low­ers, and you can use them in sal­ads for a pep­pery taste. When the seeds come out, put them in vine­gar; they taste just like capers.” And if you don’t want to use chem­i­cal fer­til­iz­ers, Smithers sug­gests putting fresh sea­weed on the ground around plants, let­ting it de­com­pose a bit, then mix­ing with the soil.

If us­ing any herbs for pur­poses other than culi­nary prepa­ra­tions, con­sult a doc­tor if you are preg­nant, nurs­ing or tak­ing blood thin­ners. And don’t give them to chil­dren un­der 2.

Let your healthcare provider know about any herbs you are tak­ing, says Dr. Melissa Young of the Cen­ter for In­te­gra­tive Medicine at Cleve­land Clinic Well­ness In­sti­tute. “Herbs for mild ail­ments, like mint for in­di­ges­tion, are quite safe for short- term use, but long- term herbal ther­apy should be used un­der the guid­ance of a physi­cian with train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence in this area.”

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